The Gun Lap -  Runner Triathlete News, July 1995

That's What Friends Are For

by Robert Salter

I have a friend. A good friend. In fact, he's a little too good. Let me explain.

After I had been running for about a year, I met Mike when I was transferred to a new building at work. The first thing Mike noticed about me was that I was wearing an old pair of running shoes.

"Do you run?," he asked, a seemingly innocuous question, but looking back I think I can already see his master plan going into operation.

Not knowing any better at the time, I was forthcoming with my response. "Yes, three or four times a week, and you?"

As open as I had been with my answer, he was secretive, answering with a general, "Oh, I'm always working out with some exercise or other."

I should have seen the signs. Anyway, the conversation continued for a short while, and I was given the distinct impression that Mike's main interest was in cycling, and running just complemented this. Not knowing any better, I casually mentioned that my department was planning an attack on the corporate division marathon relay record at the local Hogeye Marathon that April. Big mistake.

For now he was into running, and over the next few weeks we trained together and entered a few local races together. Occasionally I would beat him, but more often than not he would beat me. But at this time it didn't matter -- he was 33, I was 36, and his placings had no impact on my age-group placings. Unfortunately, this blissful state of affairs was about to come to an abrupt end. Thanksgiving Day lat year, and the local Turkey Trot.

"I'll pick you up and give you a ride there," I had offered. What I should have done was to tell him it was a six p.m. start and to walk there. But I didn't. Like an idiot, I picked him up as promised, drove to the race, and completed the race entry form. I even helped him to spell his name. (Well, that's not exactly true, but I'm just so bitter.) What I didn't do was read the entry form properly. Five kilometers later, and I finish one second behind Mike. (Of course, I could have beaten him if he'd been in my age-group.) And so to the awards ceremony, and after having finished twelfth overall I was feeling fairly confident of an award. But what was that I heard? "In the 30 to 39 age group, first..."

"Good grief, I'm in the same age-group as Mike," I suddenly realized.

"And third was Mike Sorenson."

Oh no, there he was with my medal. Receiving my applause. I thought about the long walk home that he now had ahead of him. And then I realized that this was something I would have to get used to -- Mike was now 34, and heading rapidly to the bottom of the 35 to 39 age-group. My age group!

I needed a new strategy and fast. I would have to stop offering him rides to races. Obviously the stress of driving was taking a heavy toll on my race times, like two seconds. In fact, it was a double-whammy as Mike was spared this, and could spend the travel time relaxing, and mentally visualizing himself crossing the finish line ahead of me. My list of upcoming races would also have to be changed. From now on I would have to keep two, the second one being for Mike's use, complete with omitted races, erroneous race dates, times etc. I did feel a little guilty that this would also cause his wife Ann some inconvenience, but hey, this is serious.

I think Mike has noticed the change in me. He has been trying to tell me that this year he plans to concentrate on his cycling. Yeah right, like I'm going to fall for that one! He still talks training with me. The other day I told him of a new training technique I had read about --though I had to tell him that I couldn't remember where I had read it. It relied heavily on tapering, like about not running or training for six months in addition to following a controversial new diet. As I recall it, the diet required an intake in excess of 5,000 calories a day, with highly recommended sources being hamburgers, large fries, meat, chips, cake, etc., with as few carbohydrates as possible. I was also able to recall that a minimum of sleep was required the week of a race, and that lots of beer the night before helps with the carbo-loading.

That should do the trick. Otherwise I'm just going to have to train harder, and run faster than him at races.  (Now there's an idea.) Mike has this strange notion that the idea is not to beat each other, but to train together and hopefully improve both of our performances. Huh! I'm sure I'm not alone in saying that I would rather win a local 5k in 23:00 than place second in the Olympics with a time of 13:00. Of course, if I did place second in the Olympics with a time of 13:00, guess who would have beaten me with a time of 12:59? Yes, my friend Mike. Because I drove him to the race!

Robert Salter, a computer consultant, lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and continues to give false splits to Mike during their training runs.

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